2018 D.C.-Chesapeake Rising Stars: Why They Shine

2018 D.C.-Chesapeake Rising Stars: Why They Shine

D.C. dines out. Washingtonians are gainfully employed, menu prices are relatively low (for now), and restaurants are filled. For the first time since most residents can remember, the nation’s capital—a quirky, transient city by nature—has stabilized and is growing with a population that has put down roots. Thanks to civic improvements, and investments made under Mayors Anthony Williams and Adrian Fenty, citizens settled down, bought houses, and formed communities that guzzle coffee, eat adventurously, drink beer, quaff cocktails, sip wine, and love a night on their town.            

There are more than 2,200 eating and drinking establishments in the District and more than 90 percent of them are independently owned. If you’re not one of those, then you’re probably a CVS. And whether D.C.’s much talked about restaurant bubble bursts may rest upon how the implementation of controversial Proposition 77 pans out. In the meantime, residents may gush over restaurants that finally reflect the multiculturalism of the four quadrants.  

During a time when the national political leadership in D.C. is shaky at best, the major distinction of this class of Rising Stars is their leadership. This impressive group of chefs and hospitality professionals from all across the Chesapeake region—from Rehoboth to Frederick, Baltimore to Richmond, and throughout Washington—are leaders in their restaurants and cities.

We met with more than 130 chefs, pastry chefs, bartenders, sommeliers, and artisans during the spring and summer of 2018. Here, meet the newest class of StarChefs Rising Stars and learn why they shine.

Chef: Jerome Grant, Sweet Home Cafe

Jerome Grant is making history … every day: when he barbecues brisket, when he bakes beans, when he crisps-up the top layer of mac ’n cheese. Grant is a protector of family recipes passed down from slave communities and their descendants. He is the epitome of chef as storyteller, and at the helm of Sweet Home Café in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, his guests are entering his restaurant at an acutely emotional moment in the flow of the exhibit—an exhibit in which he is a crucial part. Grant serves comfort food, in the truest sense of the phrase, to more than 1,000 people a day from all over the country and the world. While doing so, he’s making, safeguarding, and evolving the story of African American cuisine for generations to come.  

Dishes that clinched it:      

  • Buttermilk fried chicken
  • Barbecue brisket, wings, ribs, baked beans, slaw, pickles, white bread
Chef: Kwame Onwuachi, Kith/Kin

Kith and Kin is to West African and West Indian food in America, what Cosme is to Mexican food. But because its chef, Kwame Onwuachi, is from the United States (The Bronx), Kith and Kin is broadening and deepening American cuisine. By telling his and his family’s story, Onwuachi is giving voice to a large yet largely ignored slice of our culinary heritage. The CIA-Per Se-EMP trained chef is introducing green seasoning, habanero sauce, suya, and piri piri to the mainstream culinary lexicon without losing the heart of what he learned from his mother’s Louisiana table. Onwuachi is cooking the food of his life and lifetimes of food that have come before him—with the inspiration coming off paper plates, out of corner bodegas, off living room knees, and into a fine-dining setting in our nation’s capital. 

Dishes that clinched it:  

  • Mom dukes shrimp, toasted brioche, aïoli, buttered rice
  • Goat shoulder, habanero, toasted curry, crispy potatoes, celery, lime, roti
Chef: Tom Cunanan, Bad Saint

Tom Cunanan is on a personal journey to uncover the intricacies and evocative power of Filipino food. At the time Bad Saint opened, he had visited the Philippines only once at the age of 3, but the dishes he translated from his mom’s kitchen were enough to fuel two-hour waits at the tiny restaurant he owns with partner Genevieve Villamora. Two years in, Cunanan continues to look inward and back to (and travel to) his family’s roots, whether it’s to find the ultimate process for lechon or the joy (tears!) he can bring with a simply steamed rice cake. Sure, Cunanan would like a walk-in. More than 24 seats would be nice, but for now, he’s laying his heart bare for his diners—whether they’re Filipina grandmas, D.C. bros, or Tinder dates—who are experiencing in real-time the evolution of Filipino cuisine in the hands of a great American chef. 

Dishes that clinched it:  

  • Ginisang ampalaya: bitter melon, egg, preserved black beans, tomato, bean sprouts, ginger, garlic, shallots
  • Lechon, achara, Mang Tomas sauce
Chef: Kevin Tien, Himitsu

Kevin Tien’s food at Himitsu is dynamic, cross-cultural, and deeply personal. His dishes are inspired by memories of a gut-busting casino meal in Biloxi (in which he ate an entire tray of black beans and clams) and childhood dinners at Olive Garden—all with his Japanese training woven in. But for Tien, good food is a mere 20 percent of a successful restaurant. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a restaurant became Tien’s support system. Within his first 10 minutes behind the ceviche bar at Oyamel, José Andrés welcomed him by name. Tien believes in restaurant as family, and that mentorship is everything for young cooks. He nurtures his team’s growth and creativity, and pays (with benefits) them enough to build a life (buy house, a car, raise a family). He aspires to be a leader in the mold of Andrés, effecting people with more than just his delicious food.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Japanese yellowtail crudo, orange, fish sauce vinaigrette, yuzu, tobiko, Thai chile
  • Cabbage e pepe, white miso, celery
Chef: Brad Deboy, Elle

Brad Deboy melds Old World techniques with a modern sensibility in a way that shoots right to the heart of how guests want to eat today. He’s also a risk taker, not only with ideas and inspiration on the plate, but with his life and career. He left a Michelin star and the support of an established institution (Blue Duck Tavern) to open casual breakfast-lunch-dinner spot Ellē in Mt. Pleasant. There, Deboy has built the restaurant and its pantry from the ground up with fermentation as the backbone. He coaxes out wild flavors in unexpected formats, as with his already-verging-on-D.C.-iconic kimchi toast and Green Goddess salad. It’s a free-form formula straight from his tangy soul and the recipe for building a new D.C. institution.     

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Grilled kimchi toast, labneh, XO sauce
  • Red baby gem lettuce, green curry goddess dressing, mint, basil, shallots, crispy lentils and seeds   
Chef: Carlos Raba, Clavel

There is a magical restaurant in Baltimore in a nondescript building in a neighborhood between neighborhoods. And at 5pm—even on rainy days—there is a line of diners waiting to enter the warmth of Clavel, sip mezcal, and eat the Sinaloan Mexican cuisine of Chef Carlos Raba. Raba learned to cook from the women in his life, and like a grandma-made meal, his lengua quesadillas (on homemade tortillas) and shrimp aguachile verde hit an emotional nerve. They stay with you. After maxing out at 300 to 400 covers a day, Raba and partner Lane Harlan have plans to open a tortilleria and taqueria next door, bringing more of Sinaloa to Baltimore and contributing to the growing swell of soulful chef-driven Mexican cooking in America.

Dishes that clinched it:  

  • Shrimp aguachile verde, red onion, cucumber, and serrano-cilantro pesto
  • Lengua quesadilla, queso chihuahua, cucumber, lime, radish
Chef: Hari Cameron, a(MUSE.)

Hari Cameron is a restless creative, and a(Muse.), his Rehoboth Beach restaurant can barely contain his ideas. Blue crab, corn, buttermilk dressing, stewed peaches, snow cones, and salt water taffy are familiar to anyone who has eaten in the Mid-Atlantic, and Cameron takes those familiar concepts and fortifies them with global techniques (like koji-curing and fermentation) and ingredients (think miso-infused madeleines). He’s also digging deeper into Delaware product, using seaweed harvested offshore and foraging for wildflowers, greens, mushrooms, and herbs. With a(Muse.), two locations of his fast-casual grandpa (Mac), a healthy consulting side-hustle, and more projects in the pipeline, Cameron has created a sustainable business that’s bursting with inspiration for chefs who want to make it on their own terms in small town America.

Dishes that clinched it:  

  • Chicken and South Delaware slippery dumplings, onion ash, pickled onions, ember-roasted onions
  • Duck tartare, fermented watermelon rind, sungold tomatoes, daylily petals, jalapeño-buttermilk ranch
Chef: Drew Adams, Bourbon Steak

As chef of Bourbon Steak, the center of D.C. fine-dining decadence, Drew Adams hasn’t forgotten a closeness to ingredients he learned while growing up a stone’s throw from the Chesapeake. If he can’t source a product to his standards, he grows it, catches it, or forages it himself—and he’ll take his young staff along, too. Having come of age at Marcel’s, Rose’s Luxury, and The Dabney, Adams has built an open-source culture where cooks are heard. Adams sees his kitchen—comprised largely of locals, first-timers, and students—as an incubator of young talent. As he sends his sous chfes out into the industry, imbued with respect for product and people, he’s giving rise to the next generation chef-leaders in the Chesapeake and beyond.  

Dishes that clinched it: 

  • Wagyu, honeycomb truffle, barley-miso broth
  • Summer tartine: crusty bread, house ricotta, summer vegetables, bitter greens, spicy flowers, mushrooms, peas
Hotel Chef: Opie Crooks, A Rake's Progress

Opie Crooks has many of the same advantages and struggles of chefs who helm a restaurant installed in a hotel, with one notable exception: Spike Gjerde is his boss. That means Gjerde’s Mid-Atlantic sourcing ethos translates to every wedding, business lunch, banquet, and two-top at fine-dining A Rake’s Progress. While leading a small hospitality army at The Line, Crooks has also manages a training program that uses the entire FoodShed Group, which stretches to Woodberry Kitchen and Parts and Labor in Baltimore, moving cooks around the restaurants and cities as their individual development and talents requires. He’s upping the standards for hotel F&B at a national level and embellishing D.C.’s reputation as a dining destination.    

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Trout on a log: potato dumplings, smoked trout, grilled kale, embered onion, brown butter
  • Spit-roasted duck, confit duck leg fried rice, vadouvan, jus
Pastry Chef: Charbel Abrache, Seylou Bakery

Charbel Abrache is a brave baker. In baking, he draws from that same well of courage that helped him make the switch from pharmacy to culinary school in Venezuela and motivated his move from comfortable culinary instructor in South America to stagiaire at Blue Hill at Stone Barns to the opening of Seylou Bakery & Mill. Go ahead, you try and make a canelé from freshly ground, Mid-Atlantic millet on a swampy summer’s day in D.C. Abrache doesn’t stop there. From whole wheat croissants to barley pound cake and pizza, he’s reconceiving the American bakery from the grain up. Einkorn? Buckwheat? No problem. With full access to Jonathan Bethony’s granary, Abrache is laying the groundwork for a brave new world of pastry.  

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Millet canelé
  • Whole wheat croissant
Pastry Chef: Megan Fitzroy, Longoven

Megan Fitzroy is storming Richmond with her pastry. Her program at Longoven is the culmination of her New York training (Dominique Ansel, Falai, Torrisi, Sullivan Street Bakery) and Fitzroy’s style: clean, focused, refined, and perfectly in tune with Chefs Andrew Manning and Patrick Phelan’s savory menu. In the center of Virginia, Fitzroy is not compromising her vision nor pandering with s’mores, puddings, and pies. She pairs compressed cucumber with an ethereal yogurt mousseline in a dessert that smacks of refreshment and has guests wishing summer would never end. And her levers for salt and sugar are firmly balanced, even in a “Gold Bar” petit four with the layered crunch of feuilletine, toffee, black sesame, and chocolate. Along with her pastry team, Fitzroy has helped create a dessert destination in the Mid-Atlantic. 

Dishes that clinched it:  

  • Yogurt mousseline, pickled compressed cucumber, basil seeds, Thai basil sorbet, Thai basil meringue
  • Olive oil shortbread, olive oil gelato, blackberry compote, blackberry foam, thyme
Bartender: Brandon Peck, The Jasper

When you sit down for a drink at The Jasper, open your mind, relax your taste buds, and let Brandon Peck be your guide. Jäger, Galliano, and canned Mandarin orange cordial make appearances in Peck’s cocktails, and in contexts new to most stool sitters. As the head bartender of Richmond’s first true cocktail bar, Peck has stacked the menu with colorful, unfussy, and wry cocktails. A Jungle Bird variation gets built on black-strapped tequila. He resurrects forgotten classics like the Teresa, and his team pulls Zombies and nitro’d bourbon-gingers from the draft. As an involved member of the newly-minted Richmond USBG, Peck will continue to inspire and evolve the city’s young cocktail scene, one uncommon spirit and drink at a time.

Cocktails that clinched it:  

  • Blind Tiger: Jägermeister, banana liqueur, lime, grapefruit, Angostura bitters
  • Caribbean Qween: blackstrap tequila, Cappelletti, chili liqueur, pineapple, lime, tiki bitters
Concept: Daniela Moreira, Andrew Dana, and Chris Brady, Call Your Mother Deli

There should be a word for it—for when people from different backgrounds come together to create an unexpected juggernaut. It started with line-out-the-door Timber Pizza Co. and now continues with the recent opening of Call Your Mother, a Jew-ish deli by entrepreneurs Daniela Moreira, Chris Brady, and Andrew Dana. Pizza and bagels are as close to sacred as you can get when it comes to American food, and the trio is conquering both beloved genres. Moreira traveled far and wide to research their bagel recipe and the results are undeniable—leaving room for guests to argue, as they will, where CYM lands in the “best bagel” canon. Meanwhile, CYM outlets will soon be popping up across D.C. Is there a word for it? Maybe in Yiddish? IDK, call your mother.      

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Everything bagel, house cream cheese, smoked salmon
  • Sesame bagel with whipped peanut butter-bacon spread
Community: Steve Chu, Ekiben

At Ekiben, Steve Chu’s mission is to change the way Baltimore sees food, and each other. He does that by welcoming the full spectrum of the city’s diners into his fast-casual bao and bowl spot—we’re talkin’ Jewish grandmothers elbow to elbow with squeegee kids. Chu also cooks for nearly every event, festival, and street fair in town. Ekiben was born as a farmers market stall, and Chu’s success was fueled by community and accessibility—you can get a towering spicy chicken or tofu bao for less than $10. Beyond the food and space, Chu also mentors and hires teens from underserved communities through YouthWorks. As he opens new concepts, Chu will make an even bigger impact and serve as a powerful example of how the restaurant industry can bring people together—and even help heal a city. 

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Tempura soft shell crab, lump crab, aged cheddar cheese, Dijon aïoli, bao bun
  • Tempura broccoli, fresh herbs, red onion, rice vinegar
Artisan: Jonathan Bethony, Seylou Bakery

Jonathan Bethony has made bread in Boulder, San Francisco, at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in upstate New York, and at Washington State University’s renowned Bread Lab. Lucky for Washington, D.C., this world-class baker found nearby farmers who could grow heirloom and ancient wheat varietals—einkorn, millet, and Appalachian white among them—and established Seylou in the heart of the Capital. Bread is a spiritual pursuit for Bethony, a cycle of growing, harvesting, milling, experimenting, baking (in a custom wood-fired oven), and sharing. As the seasons and crops change, so do his loaves and the revelations that come from breaking bread, inhaling its fresh aroma, and savoring each slice. Bethony and Seylou are national standard-bearers in the artisan bread movement extolling the glories of whole-grain, hand-formed, deeply burnished loaves of bread. 

Breads that clinched it: 

  • Einkorn wheat loaf
  • Rustica loaf with Appalachian white and Glen white wheats
Roaster: Evan Howe, Small Planes Coffee

In nerds we trust. An ex-archivist with master’s degrees in philosophy and library science and a passion for rare books, Evan Howe leaped into the specialty coffee world four years ago. When the owners of Peregrine Espresso launched their own roasting company in 2016, Howe was ready to head it up—to the tune of 1,000 pounds of freshly roasted coffee a week. He quickly established supply chains, developed sourcing relationships, and set up the Small Planes production space. Howe has an abiding respect for coffee producers and sees the growing specialty coffee market as an opportunity to improve their livelihoods through a more transparent and equitable supply chain. Next, Small Planes plans to expand wholesale with a focus on catering to chefs and growing outside the capital. As Howe put it, "it's still the early days, but we're excited about the future, and D.C. is an increasingly great place for coffee lovers!" 

Coffees that clinched it: 

  • Astrid Medina, Planadas, Colombia
  • Ethiopia Duromina
Brewer: Matt Tarpey, The Veil

A breakaway favorite in Richmond’s booming brew corridor, The Veil was built from the tanks up by Brewer Matt Tarpey, and the city’s beer drinkers are coming—in droves. On any given Saturday, you’d be hard pressed to find fewer than 500 people filling the taproom and parking lot of The Veil. Can releases every Tuesday are as good as sold out before they open for business, spawning a Facebook group (with nearly 5,000 members) dedicated to trading cans of Tarpey’s brews, including “smoothie-style” kettle sours, California Pinot barrel-aged saisons, and beers with koji-augmented grain bills. With more Veil concepts in the works (lookout Norfolk!), Tarpey and The Veil are becoming synonymous with beer excellence in Richmond, along with the greater Chesapeake region.

Beers that clinched it:  

  • Blackout Tastee: blackberry-blackcurrant smoothie-style kettle sour
  • Make You Feel farmhouse-inspired ale
Sommelier: Felicia Colbert, A Rake's Progress

Felicia Colbert had a memorable meal at Woodberry Kitchen after her high school graduation.  Fast forward about a decade, and Colbert is the wine director at Spike Gjerde's A Rake’s Progress at The Line hotel. She is the only person for whom Gjerde lifts his stringent Mid-Atlantic sourcing restrictions, and she takes full advantage. From her 500-square-foot cellar (15 shelves, 12 bottles deep, organized alphabetically), Colbert takes guests around the world, from Italian pet nats and Vermont ice cider to Sherry and Madeira. Soon to take her Advanced exam in 2019, Colbert brings dynamism, authority, and approachability to the dining room—and more than anything else, she brings joy.

Pairings that clinched it: 

  • Palomino Fino, Oloroso 30-year VORS, Bodegas Tradición, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry, Andalucía, Spain paired with Spit-roasted duck, confit duck leg fried rice, vadouvan, jus
  • Ice cider, heirloom blend, Eden, Vermont paired with Valrhona dulcey namelaka, steamed sponge cake, grilled peaches, apricot jam, graham crumble
Sommelier: Darlin Kulla, Succotash

As beverage director of Knead Hospitality, Darlin Kulla oversees two locations of southern Succotash, as well as Mexican restaurant Mi Vida. With a love for service, guest interaction, and adrenaline, you may see her on the floor at all three. Kulla enhances and supports the rustic, comforting cuisine at Succotash with loads of structure—plenty acid, brightness, and minerality. At Mi Vida, she has fun with fruity, salty, enigmatic Baja wines. Kulla’s nimble hand will only further her reach as Knead aims to double its presence in the region. It may give Kulla less time on the floor, but she will be sending out wine protégées instilled with expertise and exuberance for filling every D.C. glass with the most delicious wine possible. In a city that loves its juice, guests will be in good hands for years to come.

Pairings that clinched it: 

  • V­iura/Manzanilla, Monopole Classico, Blanco Seco, C.V.N.E., Rioja, Spain, 2014 paired with chilled heirloom tomato soup, Maryland crab, pickled peach, grit-chard crumble, okra oil 
  • Mourvedre/Grenache, Liquid Farm, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara County, Central Coast, California, 2017 paired with Grill n’ Grits: Gulf shrimp, octopus, razor clam, zucchini, Newsom country ham
Restaurateur: Erik Bruner-Yang, Foreign National

Since 2011, Erik Bruner-Yang has slowly put his stamp on the D.C. restaurant scene. He started with noodles, expanded with mala, and really kicked it into high gear in 2018 with the opening The Line hotel and his two distinct concepts inside: grand hotel-inspired Brothers and Sisters and Tachinomiya-style Spoken English. Bruner-Yang, though, is more than a chef-restaurateur. He’s a culture curator, a mentor, and a brand—a magnanimous one. His Foreign National group runs the aforementioned concepts plus, inspired by his Taiwanese heritage, Maketto; Coronation Coffee, making D.C. restaurants a better place to drink joe; and retail boutique, Shopkeepers. Oh, and Paper Horse noodle bar inside Whole Foods. With a loyal fan base and humility, Bruner-Yang not only influences the way D.C. eats, but how and where they hang out, what they read and the clothes they buy. He’s a model for the next generation of ambitious chefs.

Dishes that clinched it: 

  • Fermented durian curry, roasted spaghetti squash, pickled chiles from Chef James Wozniuk of Spoken English
  • Lamb, knife-cut noodle, fermented chile paste, mala from Chef Mario Almeida of Maketto